Friday, April 25, 2003

Australia - Day 5 1/2 : 3 Sheets to the Wind

Mrs. Earthling is off doing a tad of shopping in the Rocks here in Sydney. We may try to get together with Tim Blair and his delightful better half, Nadia, for one last shout before Mrs E and I head to the Blue Mountains to do the "Z-Train" (hurry up on that column, Tim!). We will be there for two days before we cruise back to Sydney and then fly to Alice (if nothing else, I'm going to paper-blog the Outback and put it up in Cairns).

There's so much good stuff I'm missing in the blogosphere -- George Galloway, the WMD hunt, and the like -- but Sydney has been too delightful for words. The people are generous to a fault, the weather perfect and the views unstoppable.

As a life long resident of the San Francisco Bay Area -- it pains me to say this -- but Sydney is the most beautiful city on Earth.

UPDATE: I was happy to bring Tim Blair a bottle of Junipero Gin as a small favour for his many kindnesses. He returned the favour by buying me a Deep Fried Mars Bar. Tim was slightly horrified as I ate this -- as I said I would ("Lest We Forget!") -- and then, as I described it as being essentially a chocolate-coconaut tempura -- he was strangley drawn to it. As Bart Simpson put it : "I cannot watch, yet I cannot look away."

UPDATE: A small correction to the Day 3 Entry: the bar was not the "Beef and Bourbon" - it is Bourbon and Beefsteak. Apparently, until three years ago, they only served beer in cans -- tinnys -- for fear of bottles or glasses being smashed into weaponry.

Australia - Days 4 & 5 : A Brighter Day in Pyongyang

CNN International runs world weather reports at the 0:15, a listing of cities with conditions and temperature and nothing more. It's nice as we're shortly to be headed to Alice Springs, and Alice Springs is the first one that rolls on the screen. Wait a few and we can get Sydney, whose weather has been as delightful as her inhabitants.

And in between, like clockwork, you can get the weather report for Pyongyang (today, sunny and 71). Now, I'm not a media guy but there seem to be three potential constituencies for a weather report: those who are in a place, those who are travelling to a place and those who used to be in a place and are wondering what they missed. This seems tautological, but I believe it safe to say that there is no one who gets CNN International who actually falls into those three categories. Just a thought.

* * * *

Yesterday we awoke to a light rain in Sydney and I turned on the television to catch coverage of the Anzac Day parade. Anzac Day is Australia's most important holiday -- and is a commemoration of the invasion of Gallipoli, the first time Australia fought for the British Empire as a country and not as individual states and is a bit of Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July all rolled into one -- it was, unfortunately, a disaster -- and the plan, drafted by Churchill, was its author's greatest failing. But for Australians it is a day of both pride and honor. And the coverage completely devoid of any of that hateful, winking irony one sees in the American media.

What struck me most was that there was nothing to say about the members of the Sydney Veterans of the His Majesty's Australian Navy "N" Class Destroyer Association except what should be said - where they fought, why they fought and why we, as members of the Free World, should be thankful to them. No forced sentimentality, no blubbering about how all Australians are -- or are not -- proud of them. No need for opinion when the day itself calls for fact. These men (and women) fought and died for you, the viewing audience and while most of you know this -- all of us must be reminded. Lest We Forget

There is no room on Anzac Day for the others -- for we, the protected. The men and women who wear their medals here, on Anzac Day, with pride in their hearts a smile on their face and a cold beer in their hands, are there as a reminder to we, the protected, that there are sacrifices required in this ugly world -- and these men and women have made them.

* * *

Mrs E and I took the ferry out to Watson's Bay and sat down in the sun to enjoy the view and a couple of pots of beer and speculate on Two Up, a game which is legal only one day a year - Anzac Day. We found a nice table with some sun -- just the two of us -- when a few Australians in their early to mid 20s asked to use the rest of our longish table. We happily obliged and, long before we struck up a conversation, these two blokes toasted "To Australia - Lest We Forget!" No irony, no winking nod and not much commentary. Just a couple of fellows who said their thanks out of any public spotlight.

We had a grand time chatting with these fellows, talking about Australian politics and Karl Marx and our experience at the Bourbon and Beefsteak -- these Australians could not have been more impressed that we'd found the lowest rock in Sydney and turned it over to expose what crawls in this city's compost.

* * *

One of my favorite things in this world are the mass flip-card rallies in Pyongyang. A million people, spit polished and spot trained to flip cards, in sequence, to promote the glory of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader of North Korea. It is a spectacle beyond measure and one of the most amazing organizations of human behavior ever undertaken. And it is done for the glory of the state. Today, whatever happens in Pyongyang under a beautiful spring afternoon, will have for the leader - and nothing that happens against the leader will be tolerated. The people starve and the Dear Leader enjoys Swedish prostitutes and Hennessey (the former, of which I have neither an experience nor an opinion and, as for the latter, I will complain about another day).

* * * *

[Add something witty about the Sydney Swans v. Melbourne Demon's AFL game -- and about the always delightful Blair household -- and nearly getting bitten by a poisonous (or at least socially maladjusted) Australia spider]

On the television, men and women marched not quite in time, worn from war and, more so, from life. Five year old boys marched, here and there, wearing the medals their great-grandfathers won in a war that they might never quite understand and fought for by a man they never will know -- too young and happy to have any care other than to march down George Street with fellows who are proud to have them by their side -- and those boys, free and happy and full of promise living in a country of boundless opportunity and indominitable spirit, in the last analysis, though they may have missed living to see it, are all the reward these men ever wanted -- and more reward than any man should ever need.

* * * *

It was raining in Sydney. And it was the most beautiful day on Earth.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Australia Day 3: Artillery Tables

It does spin the other way.

I don't mean the sink or the toilet -- that flow is utterly dominated by the design of the sink and the initial flow of water. You need a tray ten feet across and an inch deep with a tiny hole and an hour to kill to tell the difference between the coriolis forces affecting a small body of water. Not that these forces aren't important. Naval artillery shoots quite differently whether you are fighting Jutland or the Battle of the Coral Sea, and woe unto the officer that forgets it. Artillery tables -- the precision guided munitions of their day -- adjusted for particular latitudes so that one could hit the target. No. Not that kind of spin.

I'm talking about the bed. It's three in the morning, and I spent the evening having beers with eight Australians and the bed is spinning anti-clockwise.

* * * *

We took at tour of the Sydney Opera House at 9:30 yesterday morning, and got to hear the symphony warming up for a rehersal -- not quite the full effect, but cool nevertheless. And the SOH is probably as cliche a thing to do as the Golden Gate Bridge... but it's a cliche because everyone goes there, but everyone goes there because it's so damned cool. After, we rang up Tim Blair and arranged to meet at Kingsley's, in Woolloomooloo for dinner and carried on with our day. We walked around the Botanical Gardens and I, of course, was impressed with everything: "Oh, Look, Honey, it's [LATIN NAME REMOVED]!" "Uhhmmmm... that's crabgrass." Or "look, honey, it's [LATIN NAME REMOVED], we should put this in our garden!!" "Hon, that's asphalt." But there was quite a bit of good stuff -- including the flock (pod? murder? school?) of flying foxes I alluded to yesterday. Then we wandered around the Queen Victoria shopping center, which is cool, and then came back for a nap.

One thing we did do was stop by the tobacconist and having picked up a copy of the Guardian (not the UK Guardian, the Guardian which is the newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia) I sat outside here at McMahon's Point and smoked a Cohiba and read John Pilger (no, really, he was the back cover piece on the CPA's rag) and took in the view of the Harbour while Mrs Earthling took a nap.

Which brings me back to the Artillery Tables: don't drink in Australia... not least with Australians... without reasonable preparation. It's different down here.

* * * *

Tim Blair, for all his bluster, is far too modest to want me to say of him that which I think --- that he's a damned nice fellow and much more. But what I can say is this: this man, as cool as he is, he's gotten the better end of the bargain by with his partner-in-crime, Nadia, a delightful a woman as can possible be. Mrs Earthling spent the evening chatting with Nadia and Mrs. Earthling hasn't woken up to catch me up and I'm down stairs in the lobby of our hotel having charmed them enough to let me use their terminal so I don't need walk up a hill and pay for the internet. They even made me coffee.

* * * *

Our evening started pleasantly enough -- with a dinner of an oyster-stuffed filet called a "Carpet Bagger" -- and a lovely white wine called "Cricket Pitch" or something of the sort. Mrs E and I got there a bit early and chatted the finer points of "drink-driving" laws with the barkeep and enjoyed a very tasty comsopolitan as we watched the flying foxes, circling in thermals drawing off the heat of the billion-candle power of the Sydney skyline.

* * * *

We met up with several Australian bloggers later in the evening. I'm missing one here, but with Tony of and Alan of alananderson.blogspot.comand a third gentlemen whose name (and blog) escapes me. I'm hoping Tim can stick it in a comment if he gets to my blog today. But they all claimed to have read my blog -- and if they hadn't I wish I could have lied as convincingly -- and we just mused about how much the Blogosphere brings the world together -- we've got friends all over the planet now and I, who was never promethian about the internet, can't say enough good things about this.

One cool thing, of course, was getting to remind Tim to check out my friend Adam Bonin's blog -- Throwing Things. What was cool, of course, was that Tim (who didn't know Adam and I are friends) said, more or less: "that's one of the greatest blogs there is. I need to read it more. He's practically the only fellow doing something different in the Blogosphere."

* * * *

Mrs E and I are off to the zoo and then to Bondi Beach with Tim Blair to try a Deep Fried Mars Bar.

I gotta give back the terminal here -- I'm wearring out my welcome -- more on the seemer side of King's Cross - the Beef and Bourbon --and a two-stones too-heavy prostitute who bit my neck to Mrs Earthling's unending amusment.

UPDATE: The story continues...

Now, the Bourbon and Beefsteak is in King's Cross -- I think what passes for the red light district in Sydney or at least comparable to the more rundown parts of Broadway in San Francisco near the Condor Club. This bar had all the charm and decour of a New York City stereo store undergoing its ninth year of a Going Out of Business Sale. And we merry few of bloggers were drinking our share of beer and Mrs E pointed out this rather plump tart who was clearly trolling for business. Well, I think she decided I was the obvious mark among out 6:2 male to female ratio and she came along and kissed one side of my neck and then bit the other. No skin was broken, so unless she had a spray-hypo grafted into her incisors, I think I'm free of any social diseases. But it was an odd exclamation point to an excellent evening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Australia Day 2: Tomato and Meat Pie Crisps

What is with non-Canadian Commonwealth Countries that they think any flavour in the world can be distilled and fused with a potato chip? This morning, in jet-lag delirium, Mrs Earthling and I, having slept through dinner and awake and 3 am, wandered down to the vending machine and found, among other choices - Chicken Potato Crisps (not Chicken and anything, just chicken), Bacon and Cheese Cheese Puffs, and Tomato and Meat Pie Crisp flavour. Now, imagine burning a spaghetti sauce, scraping off the unmixed bits and deciding that that was the flavor that needed to be developed into a tasty snack cracker. You would be sued for malpractice if you did such a thing. At least, you hope so, but that flavour associate is now apparently partner in the society of Australian Chip Makers. Frightening.

Anyway, on to happier things -- the weather in Sydney is fantastic, the Botanical Gardens were lovely -- with lots of giant bats (flying foxes?) -- and now were at George's Street "Global Gossip" having just been to Sol Levy, tobacconist extrodinare. Anyway, we're off to do a bit more exploring of downtown and then to dinner with Tim Blair. By the way, there are cheaper ways of getting a Tim Blair-a-lanch to your website than flying to Sydney, but none that promises to be quite as much fun. On the telephone, he dubbed me an honorary Australian for describing myself as "balding and thick around the middle" -- and here I am offering John Howard honorary citizenship for courageously fighting to liberate Iraq and it turns out I can become an honorary Australian for engaging in many of my favorites fo the Seven Deadly Sins.


Monday, April 21, 2003

Australia Day 1: A Long Ride Downhill

From the Sydney Desk.

Mrs Earthling and I managed our 14 hour flight to Sydney without too much trouble. Fortunately, we had a whole row (4 seats) to ourselves. So Mrs. got 9 of fourteen hours of the flight spent asleep and I did alright with about 7.5. But smooth sailing all the way down here and we're just walking off our jet lag stopping in at a few friendly pubs. The Quayle Ale at Lord Nelson's (named, apparently, in honour of Former Veep Dan Quayle) was quite refreshing.

We're going to get together tomorrow for dinner with a Sydney-based blogger of some note and that should be quite a treat.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Arion Press

My grandfather was a printer for 60-odd years. One of his apprentices, Andrew Hoyem, went on to form Arion Press, probably the single finest craft bookmaker in the world. Here's yet another great article about Arion Press and its on-going efforts to keep the art of bookmaking alive and well.
Antipodeal Blogging, Part Deux

Mrs Earthling and I are out the door --- first off to Easter Brunch with my folks, then to the airport --- and Australia!